Five affirmations to remember during an election year
As we approach November, I think it is fair to say that the media coverage of the presidential race has been both exhaustive and exhausting. Even within the world of evangelicalism, we have received our fair share of election analysis. I am thankful for the fruitful political dialogue that has taken place by evangelical leaders in the public square. These discussions are healthy as we try to bring the Scriptures to bear on our decisions this November. However, the constant drumbeat of political analysis coming out of Christendom can easily give the impression that we Christians ride the coattails of politicians (may it never be!). Amidst the overwhelming amount of evangelical opinions telling us what to do this November, I simply want to articulate five scriptural affirmations that should help shape our collective spirit this election season—and every election season for that matter. At the risk of being labeled “captain obvious,” I think we need to be reminded of the bigger picture every once in a while. So here goes:
God sovereignly establishes the governing authorities according to his will. The apostle Paul reminded the Roman Christians in the first century that God appoints every ruling authority: “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God” (Rom 13:1). Every monarch and mayor, senator and sultan, president and prime minister, is given their position of authority by God himself. We cast our votes this November in the humble awareness that God’s purpose shall stand. History will continue to unfold moment-by-moment, year-by-year, and president-by-president according to God’s good pleasure. Our response when the votes are tallied should be one of thanksgiving no matter who wins because we know and trust that God is orchestrating the events of human history to maximize his own glory (cf. 1 Tim 3:1–2)
The reality of Christian liberty should shape our private and public political dialogue. Over the last year, we have heard much debate within evangelicalism about what we should do in November. I have heard well-respected pastors and theologians endorse Trump. I have heard well-respected pastors and theologians suggest that they would prefer to see Hillary Clinton in office. Others indicate that we should vote for neither, while some do not believe they will vote at all. Still others indicate that not voting is a failure of Christian stewardship. Let me affirm that I am glad these discussions are taking place. These discussions are good and necessary. However, considering the circumstances, perhaps more needs to be said about the glorious reality of Christian liberty. Maybe the very fact that vast amount of intramural debate is happening within Christendom concerning the election should cause us to slow down and at least ask ourselves if we are trying to bind the Christian conscience on issues that are within the bounds of Christian freedom. Every Christian is responsible to search the Scriptures in order to make a biblically informed decision as to how to proceed this November. As we share our biblically informed opinions with one another, we must be careful never to free another’s conscience where Scripture would have it bound or bind another’s conscience where Scripture would set it free. Our consciences are captive to the Word of God.
Our citizenship is in heaven. Unlike those who had become enemies of the cross by, in part, setting their minds on earthly things, Paul reminded the Philippian Christians that their citizenship was in heaven (Phil 3:19–20). To be a citizen of heaven during our earthly life is not a geographical reality but a political one. Upon his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ ascended into heaven taking his seat at the right hand of God (Ps 110:1; Heb 1:3–4). He now rules the cosmos as the victorious Son of God (cf. Rom 1:4). His enemies on earth continue to challenge his authority, but heaven is the place where his rule is undisputed (cf. Ps 110:1). As his loyal subjects, our supreme allegiance is to Christ not to any earthly government or leader. As citizens of an earthly state, we submit ourselves to Caesar, but as citizens of heaven we worship king Jesus alone. We will do our country the greatest benefit by walking in a manner worthy of our heavenly calling, while praying for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. We will impact our nation for the greatest good when we recognize, as Russell Moore has written, that “we can be Americans best if we are not Americans first.”
Every Christian is in exile. If our citizenship is in heaven, then there is no nation or land on earth that a Christian can truly call home. Peter identified his readers as “elect exiles” (1 Pet 1:1). The author of Hebrews tells us that Abraham lived in the land of promise as in a foreign land . . . . For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb 11:9–10). We should not be surprised when the secular culture looks at us like we are from another planet. Nor should we be surprised when the two presidential candidates do not speak our language. We are sojourners and exiles (1 Pet 2:11). This means that we who are Christians enjoying religious liberty in America—at least for now—are aliens in our own country inasmuch as the Syrian Christians suffering persecution in the Middle East are in theirs. Our exile will not come to an end when the right man (or woman) brings our values to the city of Washington, but when Christ brings the heavenly city of Zion to earth. “For here we have no lasting city, but we seek a city that is to come” (Heb 13:14).
Nothing can stop our mission from succeeding. We can easily lose perspective when various forms of media are competing for our attention every second of the day. When everyone seems to be shining the spotlight on the race towards the White House, we can join in watching the race, but not as though our lives or our mission depended on it. Our mission is to make disciples and no amount of political upheaval can prevent the gospel from advancing. Jesus will build his church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it (Mt 16:18). We would do well to remember on which hill God has supremely revealed his power and glory: not Capitol Hill but a hill outside of Jerusalem, where Jesus Christ died under the wrath of God to make atonement for sin. Three days later he rose from the dead and is now enthroned as king of heaven and earth. From God’s right hand he is sending out the Spirit to gather a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation. The lamb will have the reward of his suffering. Jesus will build his church and if the gates of hell will not prevail against it, neither will the outcome of November.